Abigail Klein Leichman
March 29, 2012, Updated September 11, 2012

Photo courtesy of Diva Hirschthal Ltd.
The 2012 Diva “Majestic” features a brand-new elasticized plissé.

Ran Pappo’s grandparents started hand-sewing lingerie in a little Tel Aviv factory in March 1942. British officers stationed in Palestine, Lebanon and Syria snatched them up for wives back home, and business boomed. Six years later, the Hirschthals branched out into bathing suits as the state of Israel was born.

Today, Pappo is CEO of Diva, based in the same Tel Aviv location since the 1950s. This posh beachwear label has US and German subsidiaries, and sells in more than 40 countries — including the up-and-coming BRIC nations and even (through third parties) some Muslim lands.

“My grandmother’s vision was that every lady who wore a Diva swimsuit should feel like a diva,” Pappo explains.

His sister, Neta, followed their mother Rachel as the design genius behind the brand.

To mark Diva’s 70th year with a splash, Neta and her crew cooked up seven Special Edition styles in black-and-white Italian microfiber, each typical of one decade in the company’s history. Models were photographed inside the original factory, making for a visually stunning catalogue contrasting new and old.

Buyers are loving it, says Marketing Director Adi Weiss.

“When I presented our limited anniversary collection to our reps, I explained that it tells our story. Not one rep didn’t use this collection in some way, and it started a serious discussion around the world about Diva and our history,” she tells ISRAEL21c.

Divas on the beach

The catalogue showcasing the rest of the 2012 collection also got a special anniversary twist, shot against the dramatic backdrop of the Dead Sea.

Photos courtesy of Diva Hirschthal Ltd.
Designer Rachel Pappo, right, pregnant with future Diva CEO Ran, overseeing a catalogue shoot on the beach in 1970.

Each piece was inspired by a 20th century Hollywood heartthrob: Grace Kelly, Sophia Loren, Audrey Hepburn, Kim Novak, Jane Birkin, Brigitte Bardot, Claudia Cardinale, Elizabeth Taylor, Ingrid Bergman, Marilyn Monroe, Raquel Welch.

The stars’ names aren’t on the tags, but the styles are meant to subtlety evoke images of these box-office beauties among Diva’s core customers — well-heeled women in their 40s and 50s.

However, many of the suits are for younger bodies, as illustrated by model Kim Glass, who wears a “Diva by Rachel Pappo” number in the 2011 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition.

“We can dress women from their late 20s and up,” says Weiss, a master’s degree holder in fashion buying from Marangoni Institute in Milan. “One of our strengths is the vast range in our product line.”

Rachel Pappo, who designed collections for Pierre Cardin in the 1980s and continues to paint and sculpt in a studio at Diva headquarters, steered the company toward exclusive prints.

“The leopard print was developed by us,” says Weiss. “You will always see animal and flower prints in Diva — rare signature prints done by painters from our own designs. We don’t buy prints from suppliers.”

Though production has moved to Romania in recent years, all design, modeling and sampling is done in Israel. The fabrics are made by Italian companies that, like Diva, are family-owned for generations.

Photos courtesy of Diva Hirschthal Ltd.
One of the seven limited-edition swimsuits produced for Diva’s 70th anniversary, representing the 1950s.

This year several Diva swimsuits make use of an innovative elastic plissé that stretches in both directions. The solids are highly engineered, says Weiss, with color contrasts such as a yellow top and turquoise bottom. The print palette includes combinations of dots and animal prints, along with Impressionist-style florals.

Growing up in the business

Ran Pappo, now 42, knew since childhood that he wanted to run the family business.

“I worked here during summer vacations, before and after the army and through university. I fulfilled my destiny,” he says with a smile.

His daughter, not yet 12, already designs her own swimwear with her aunt. His 14-year-old son aspires to fill Dad’s shoes someday, while his eight-year-old son has yet to claim his place in the family business.

Photos courtesy of Diva Hirschthal Ltd.
The Diva Shiraz.

Pappo produces on demand, meaning buyers wait four months to receive their order. Transactions are usually done in person. “The world has become smaller, but still when you want to sell you have to show the product live — not over the Internet,” says Pappo. “The difference is you can feel the fabric and see how it sits on the body.”

Weiss predicts that technology advances will allow Diva to sell online and even via smartphone in another decade. “We are adjusting to the new Internet marketplace, combining new channels of selling, but we’ll never compromise on fit,” she says.

No matter what direction selling trends take, Pappo’s family will remain in the creative end of it. “It’s in our veins,” he says.

More on Culture

Fighting for Israel's truth

We cover what makes life in Israel so special — it's people. A non-profit organization, ISRAEL21c's team of journalists are committed to telling stories that humanize Israelis and show their positive impact on our world. You can bring these stories to life by making a donation of $6/month. 

Jason Harris

Jason Harris

Executive Director

More on swim in Israel